*This post contains spoilers of <The Palace: Tale of Jang Noksu>
The day I went to see the performance was a bright and clear day. The good weather combined with my excitement of watching the performance lifted my mood as I travelled to Jeongdong Theater. Jeongdong Theater is located at the end of the Deoksugung Stonewall Road and I decided to spend some time exploring around before the show time of the performance.
As soon as I entered the theater, the stage caught my attention. The words <The Palace: Tale of Jang Noksu> were displayed in red, and above those words, the scattered flower petals seemed to represent the character Jang Noksu. They seemed to represent the combination of the image of “the evil woman who desires power”, most people’s image of Jang Noksu, and the image of “the entertainer who possesses extraordinary skills” which is portrayed by Jeongdong Theater.
The performance began when the cast appeared. The actors showed various skills and liven up the atmosphere while hyping up the audience. Two members of the audience were invited up the stage and the audience was buzzing with excitement before the actual start of the performance.
# Non-verbal Performance
I was confused by the transition to the start of the performance but my confusion was cleared once the actual story began. Unlike other performances that use dialogues to explain the plot, this is a non-verbal performance with no dialogues. (Non-verbal performances refers to performances that only include body movements and sounds, without the use of any dialogues.) I did not know that <The Palace: Tale of Jang Noksu> was a non-verbal performance until the start of the show so at first, I was puzzled as to why the actors were not speaking. The information I read beforehand did not explicitly mention this aspect of the performance and I thought it was a regular play. Nonetheless, I had watched another non-verbal performance ‘NANTA’ previously so I was not too surprised by it. On the other hand, my mother seemed to be more surprised by the absence of dialogues and the use of only body movements of the performance.
I had a concern when I realised the show was a non-verbal performance. How am I supposed to understand the plot? The plot is not a light-hearted one. Rather, it is one based on historical facts. Without any dialogue, I was worried if I could understand the story. Luckily, at the end of each scene, the narrative text explaining the scene appears on two screens at both sides of the stage. This allowed me to understand the summary of the scene and grasp the flow of the story. Now that I think of it, foreign viewers may find it easier to understand the story in this way. More than half of the audience was made up of foreign viewers. Compared to using dialogues in Korean, it may be easier for foreign viewers to understand the flow of the story with a general understanding of the plot while using body movements.
Was it because the performance was a non-verbal one? I think the directing of the performance was excellent. There were two scenes that I found the most memorable which came to my mind when I reflected on my experience watching the performance.
One of these scenes was the scene where Jang Noksu was suffering from pressure from the royal subjects. The scene showed Jang Noksu and Yeonsangun playing catch with Jang Noksu wearing the king’s robe, and the beginning of the oppression of the royal subjects. In order to show this scene of oppression, the show chose to use drums. Jang Noksu was surrounded and trapped by drums carried by the royal subjects. To escape from them, Jang Noksu hit the drums, seemingly defending herself. Escape and pursuit, attack and defend. This repeated endlessly, and the tension was at its peak. Despite the lack of dialogues, this scene did a good job in showing Jang Noksu’s greed for power by wearing the king’s robes while intensely fighting against the endless attacks by the royal subjects at the same time.
The other scene was the scene where the royal subjects pressured Yeonsangun. The royal subjects brought scriptures and pressured Yeonsangun who neglected his duties while indulging in pleasures. Personally, this was the most memorable scene and the directing of this scene was the best in the whole performance. At the beginning, each royal subject held a petition scroll and requested the king’s judgement. As more royal subjects appear, it seemed as if Yeonsangun did not hear any of them. The dissatisfaction of the royal subjects grew and they started to pressure the king collectively. This scene of oppression was expressed through the use of the scrolls. Leaving Yeonsangun at the center, each scroll was released. The ends of the lengthened scrolls were held by the royal subjects on both sides, and when they stood up, the scrolls trapped Yeonsangun around his waist.
The growing dissatisfaction against the king who did not care about his duties at all, represented by the copious amount of scrolls, suffocating the king and torturing him. The directing perfectly depicted this.
I was surprised by the directing in further scenes as well. Jang Noksu picked up a sword for the sake of Yeonsangun who was tortured by the scrolls. Using the sword, Yeonsangun ruthlessly killed the royal subjects who oppressed him. Here, parts of the blue lightings turned red at the moment when the king slashed his subjects. At last, when all the royal subjects were killed, all the lights turned red. The red lighting vividly showed that the bloodiness of the Royal Court.
I wonder if the reason why these two scenes left such a deep impression on me was due to the non-verbal aspect of the performance. An ordinary performance would probably use dialogues to explain the story but a non-verbal performance could not do this. This is why I think there had to be much effort put into the directing in order to explain the story. To explain the scenes well, the team probably came up with endless ways for the efficient use of props, lighting, music, movements etc.
How wonderful would it be if I was as moved by the story as I was by the directing. Compared to the directing, the story was disappointing for me. Honestly, before watching the performance, although I had high expectations of the show, I also had some concerns about the story. Rather than presenting the image of Jang Noksu as one of the three “evil women and temptresses of Joseon”, the show would portray her in a way closer to the image of an “entertainer”. The fact that this was an attempt to approach a historical fact may bring some controversy and would require extreme cautiousness. This was why I could not help but feel worried about the story.
Unfortunately, after the performance ended, this concern of mine remained. In fact, I had another bigger concern. Although the show tried to provide a new perspective by showing the “entertainer Jang Noksu”, I feel like the show did not put a heavy emphasis on this point. The difference between the skills of Jang Noksu compared to the skills of the other performers was not that huge. It may be because the other performers were good or because I’m not an expert in dancing which explains my inability to distinguish their skills. Still, I could not shake off the feeling I had about the part where the historical aspect may be slightly controversial.
I don’t know how other viewers felt, but personally, I did not see Jang Noksu as an “evil woman” or an “entertainer” in this show. I could only see her as a woman who fell in love. I thought it could be possible to show the love triangle between Yeonsangun, Prince Je-an and Jang Noksu. After watching the performance, the drama which had a controversial due to its distortion of history, “Jang Ok-Jung, Living by Love” came to mind. A controversy on whether the reinterpretation of Jang Hui-bin as a woman who loved Sookjeong was an extreme distortion of history arose, and I had a similar concern regarding the performance. It felt like a sad love story about Jang Noksu who fell in love with Yeonsangun and chose to spend her life with him, standing by him and eventually, dying together. It gave me the impression that the theme of the performance had changed to “love”.
I feel that this aspect has to be taken into careful consideration. For those who are not familiar with Jang Noksu and for foreign viewers who make up the majority of the audience, they may remember Jang Noksu only as a woman who fell in love. I hope that more caution can be given to the fact that distorted historical facts may have an influence on the audience after watching the performance.
Other than the disappointment regarding the story, the other parts of the performance made it a pretty excellent performance. Traditional Korean dance is not an easy genre of dance. After watching the performance, it seemed like a good idea to try to approach traditional Korean dance. Rather than simply showing traditional Korean dance, the performance incorporated contemporary dance into traditional Korean music. This made it easier for those who are watching traditional Korean dance performances for the first time to adapt to the performance. In addition, the audience could watch traditional Korean games being played and this made it an even better experience.
More than anything else, I hope other people will watch the show because of its outstanding directing. I don’t remember being this impressed by the directing of any performances I’ve watched in the past. The appropriate directing that replaces dialogues left a deep impression on me. There is a great difference between what you read from words and the actual experience watching the performance in real life. I hope that those who watch the performance will be able to feel the amazement I felt watching it. The performance will be shown till the end of the year so I hope that those who have free time can make a visit to Jeongdong Theater to watch it.
– This review was made in collaboration with ARTinsight.
Jeongdong Theater Tradition Series Performance <The Palace: Jang Noksu>
2018.04.05 ~ OPEN RUN
Tue – Sat 4PM (Closed on Sun & Mon)
Viewing age of 48 months and above
Choreographer_Jeong Hye Jin, Director_Oh Kyeong Taek, Writer_Kyeong Min Seon, Composer_Kim Cheol Hwan, Art Director_Park Dong Woo, Lighting Design_Sin Ho, Video Design_Jeong Jae Jin, Costume Design_Lee Ho Jun, Make-up_Kim Jong nn, Prop Design_Kim Sang Hee
http://jeongdongtheater.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/KakaoTalk_20181021_045621922.jpg435580jdadminhttp://jeongdongtheater.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/JEONGDONG06_SIGNATURE_ENGLISH.jpgjdadmin2018-11-25 07:42:512018-11-29 15:10:46[The Palace: Tale of Jang Noksu] A Dangerous Encounter with Jang Noksu